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Possible child care workers' union vote rankles Republicans

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Some state lawmakers continue to raise questions over whether Gov. Mark Dayton has the authority to use an executive order to allow private, in-home day care providers to vote on forming a union. 

Dayton hasn't said whether he'll actually issue the executive order. But that didn't stop Republicans in the Minnesota Senate from holding a three-hour hearing on the matter on Thursday that featured impassioned testimony from supporters and opponents of the possible union vote. It also prompted the threat of legal action from one lawmaker.

Day care provider Sharon O'Boyle of St. Paul Park said she and other union supporters see want a union in order to have a stronger voice when it comes to streamlining government oversight of day care facilities. O'Boyle also said she wants a stronger voice advocating for higher day care reimbursements from the state. 

"I want a union to work with me on issues that concern myself and other licensed family child care providers," she said. Those issues include licensing rules and regulations, and adequate compensation for services to families.

Other day care providers testified that they don't need the help of a union. Becky Swanson of Dakota County said she likes owning a small business and said she doesn't think a union will be helpful.

"There are 11,000 of us in the state of Minnesota and I guarantee you there are still many child care providers who do not know that this happening and that this will happen to their small business," she said. "This country was based on the backs on small business owners. I prefer to stay that small business owner."

Others testified that they don't want to belong to a union and questioned whether they would be forced to join the union and pay dues. Some asked how unions would deal with home day care providers who have no employees.

Republican Sen. David Hann repeatedly asked Service Employees International Union organizer Denise Welte for specifics, such as the amount of union dues providers would be asked to pay.

"To me these are very fundamental questions we're trying to understand what this effort is based on and what it's trying to get done," he said. "All we're looking for is information and answers for that." "Providers are here to organize their union because they have that right," Welte replied. "We don't have all of the answers that you're looking for at this moment." 

A union official later said that part of the uncertainty stems from how Dayton words his executive order, if the executive order is ever given. He also said some of the details would have to be negotiated in a union contract. 

Republicans complained that no one from the Dayton administration was there to testify, but Dayton said he was notified about the hearing on short-notice, and he characterized the event as a political stunt when he spoke with reporters on Thursday afternoon.

"They're trying to make something out of nothing to serve their own purposes," he said. "They say they want information but there's no information to share. This is a grandstand show."

In-home day care providers in 14 other states have been allowed to vote to unionize. Dayton has said he won't issue an executive order that immediately puts the day care providers into a union. Instead he's considering allowing the Bureau of Mediation Services to oversee a vote by the day care providers. 

Dayton said he's still talking with his chief counsel and the attorney general about his legal authority. Republicans in the Senate say Dayton has no legal standing to call for a vote. Sen. Hann said he'll consider filing a lawsuit to stop Dayton if he takes the action. 

Hann said the better avenue would be for the Legislature to pass a law that would grant the authority for a vote to be held. He promised to hold a hearing in his committee next session. It's unlikely that the Republican controlled Legislature would support such a bill. And it isn't certain the issue will wait that long. 

Dayton, who received heavy support from the unions during the race for governor, could take the action before session starts on Jan. 24.